Early this morning, as I was brewing coffee and preparing to read and study, I took notice of our homemade ant farm. You heard me right- we have a homemade ant farm…in a glass jar…with ants we collected from our kitchen sink when they began to swarm due to warmer temperatures. Here’s a picture:
It was actually my wife’s creation (I had nothing to do with it). Since she started homeschooling two of our daughters, I’ve come home to many of these awesome creations. What an amazing way to learn. Frankly, she’s brilliant if you want my opinion.
The ant farm got me thinking, however. As I waited for my coffee to finish brewing I leaned in and took notice of how diligently the ants were working. In fact, they had completed a lot of tunnel digging (or whatever it is they do) from last night when I went to bed, until this morning. In the week or two we’ve had this farm, they haven’t stopped working. And there always seems to be more to do (even in limited space).
As I studied them I got to thinking about our role as parents. Do you realize, when you signed on to become a parent (either through adoption and foster care or the moment you discovered you were going to have a baby), you were signing up for a lifelong membership? It’s something I really didn’t realize, but it’s true. If you’re a parent now, you will be for the rest of your life. Your work will never be finished, but it will change in context.
Here’s what I’ve discovered (and still learning):
You go through different stages of parenting. First, there are the formative years. Those are the early years when your child is learning to walk, use the potty on their own, attend school for the first time, push the boundaries, test the waters a bit, and learn under your careful guidance and judgement. Then comes the structural years- the years of pre-teen drama, going out with friends, being told “no” to that outfit or those friends, receiving a consequence for poor choices or entitled behavior, and finding out the world does not revolve around them. And then comes the friendship years. These years are in college and beyond. They’re the years of fruitfulness, where all of your hard work, blood, sweat and tears finally pays off and you enjoy healthy adult relationships with your children.
But, you are still their parent. Your work is never finished. In the formative and structural years, you hone in on discipline, set up firm boundaries and outline the consequences of crossing those boundaries. Friendship is a distant thought during these years because guidance and boundaries come first and stand at a distance from friendship. Sticking to this and staying committed to it, regardless of how your child feels about it, is the healthiest thing you can do for them as their parent.
In the friendship years you become an ear to listen to your child’s struggle with their own children, or the voice that speaks from wise perspectives. You are like a friend who is there to give advice or have a cup of coffee and catch up. But, you’re still there. You haven’t crossed a finish line. Unless you spent the formative and structural years blowing it, you are now one of your child’s best friends. Your parenting has changed from what it was in the formative and structural years.
Our work is never finished. It just changes over time. There is always something to do in parenting. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s not so hard, and sometimes it’s quite easy. But, it’s there. This is not meant to be discouraging or sound like a lifelong prison sentence. It’s more like an exciting journey full of adventure. So, buckle up!
Question: Have you found this to be true? How has your work as a parent changed or continued? Leave a comment in the comment.